Traversing across the ocean was, oddly enough, like travelling across the desert. There were only so many safe routes to take if you wanted to get to a place. Technically anyone could swim to anywhere but it really was a question of if you really did want to go that way. The ocean was not empty. Creatures had territories. Some creatures were very vicious. Others were very large and had long memories. Sometimes you might have to cross a trench if you wandered off the beaten path and there really was no guarantee that something just wouldn’t rush up and make a nice tasty meal of you. In short, the ocean was dangerous. And if you wanted to get from point A to point B, you might as well take the path with the least risk. And less pollution. And possibly less expensive if you happened to drift along the more demanding kingdoms.
It was this predictability of pathways that allowed merfolk to track their own. The ocean was in constant motion which meant that any tracks made in the sand would be lost in a few hours at the most. Scents too dissipated quickly so trying to track a mer by scent was a frustrating process. Dropped scales was perhaps one of the few artifacts left behind in a mer’s flight from justice and there were few of those.
Blood however was a scent that lasted and that mers could pick up for a long time from quite a distance. If you wounded the person you were chasing, chances were, you could find them again. The problem with that however, was that mers weren’t the only things in the ocean that scented blood easily. If the runners were wounded badly enough you might come upon their remains instead and while justice was served, it wasn’t quite as satisfying. It was frustrating when you needed information from the person who’d gotten eaten.
The other alternative to tracking someone was with the use of artae. However, while all merfolk could use artae, not all of them could use it well. In fact, competent and complex use was only achievable in around twenty percent of the entire merfolk population. In addition to that fact was that your quarry could also use artae and in some cases could use it better than you. It made the whole thing tricky business.
But the circuit was old hat at tracking people. It wasn’t easy, it was never easy, but they’d gotten the whole thing down to a science. They assumed their errant troublemaker, Chantinal he was called as Jenaicra informed them, did actually start off hunting. It was possible that the presence of the circuit had scared him off. So, they headed to the most likely of the hunting grounds, that were within reasonable distance of the community. They found no traces of hunting in that first location so they moved on to another and then one more before they finally came on a hunting ground that held the faint tang of blood and freshly killed fish. Scales on the sand meant that someone had killed here recently.
Now they had a starting point. They casted about a bit, spreading out until Jenaicra caught a faint scent of fish blood to the west. They followed the blood scent which seemed to be headed to the furthest of the fishing grounds from the community until it abruptly took a left turn. By this time though the blood scent was fading; it’d been faint to begin with.
The mermen clustered together as they attempted to figure out which paths were in that particular direction.
“Well there’s nothing in that direction,” Argan said. “Not for a while at least.”
“There’s two routes that curve near enough in that direction,” Fassleti replied. “He might go for those. That current up ahead would get him close to the first of those. If we spooked him, chances are he’d go for the fast route.”
Argan frowned slightly. “I wish I’d gotten to speak to him.” He was silent for a moment and then nodded. “We’ll follow the current and keep an eye for any places he might have stopped at.”
Currents were useful things when you were both going in the same direction. This one was particularly strong and tugged the group of mermen along in its wake. The group allowed themselves to be pulled by the current and although they used their own speed to quicken the trip, they followed the current’s meandering.
Fassleti was the first to slow. The others noticed and slowed with him.
“There,” he said, jerking his head. It was a path. While it wasn’t a true route, it was the safest choice out of a myriad of bad choices and it led you far away from populated areas before rejoining a safer route. It was the perfect choice for a runaway merman hoping to escape detection.
The circuit members tossed themselves out of the current and swam down the path. They hadn’t gone far when the tang of blood made itself known. They didn’t even bother to glance at each other, they just sped up. The blood scent grew stronger and stronger and finally they came upon the source.
The body was twisted most likely due to his death throes. It floated, awkward in death, tumbling end over end in the water. A few lucky fishes had already started feasting on the corpse. Extinrel, hissed and darted forward waving the fishes away. They scattered and he caught hold of the corpse and turned it so that they could get a good look at his face.
“Is this him?”
“Never seen him, but I’m willing to bet that it is,” Fassleti murmured.
“That,” said Argan eyeing the wounds, “was not done by somebody else. Am I right Extinrel?”
Extinrel bared his teeth but carefully examined the wounds. Some of it was done by the fishes, but the majority were perpetrated by the claws of a mer. Most of the wounds littered the upper body and were superficial. They wouldn’t have killed him. The last one though, that had. His throat was gashed, the claw marks going deep enough to penetrate the trachea and half-sever it, half-rip it out. From the bits of flesh still clinging to the corpse’s claws, and the angle of the claw marks, it was clear that their runner had killed himself.
Extinrel confirmed it with a taut nod.
“So,” said Jenaicra. “Why would he run, only to kill himself?”
“That,” replied Argan, “would be the question, wouldn’t it?”